|Grant Wenaus, Jesse Blumberg, Scott Murphree, and Vira Slywotzky|
Mirror Visions Ensemble is celebrating their 25th Anniversary Season with performances and master classes both in the USA and in Paris. How lucky we feel to have spent an evening with them last night at the Sheen Center, a most suitable venue for a song recital.
And what a recital it was! The theme was Flights of Fantasy; dreams and imagination were celebrated in protean manifestations. The artistry was incomparable.
The first group of songs dealt with ancient gods; our favorite from this group was Ture Rangström's "Semele" with text by August Strindberg--both early 20th c. artists. Soprano Vira Slywotzky is a truly exceptional singer of great versatility. She used her ample instrument and perfectly calibrated dramatic skills to get across the vindictiveness of the goddess Hera towards the overreaching Semele of the title. Our knowledge of the Swedish language is minimal but it sounded just fine to us.
The next set of songs dealt with Lorelei, the mythical siren who lures men to their destruction. Always a compelling storyteller and adventuresome linguist, Ms. Slywotzky tackled Zdenêk Fibich's Czech setting of Heinrich Heine's chilling tale which we had previously heard only in German.
We were on more familiar territory when baritone Jesse Blumberg gave an astonishing account of Robert Schumann's "Waldesgespräch". What astonished us was not just his mellifluous voice but the varied colorations he gave to the seductive horseman and the vengeful Lorelei. We couldn't help thinking of a certain entitled presidential candidate and hoping he might meet a similar fate.
Ms. Slyvotzky returned with all her cabaret flair to perform the version put forth by the brothers Gershwin. Oh, she was treacherous! Oh, she was lecherous! And how cleverly the Gershwins made use of the special qualities of the English language.
MVE has commissioned eighty works over the years, and last night we heard the latest--Scales and Tales by Gilda Lyons whose contemporary take was original and more than usually listenable. Mythological creatures were introduced in texts, one dating from nearly three millenia ago, with the most recent from the mid 18th c.
The strings of the piano were plucked and pounded by pianist Grant Wenaus, producing some of the strangest sounds we have heard coming from that instrument. All three singers took part. Our favorite was "Unicorn" in which all three singers overlapped lines or sang in unison with strange harmonies and occasional equine snuffling and snorting!
The next segment dealt with birds--the swan and the stork. Mr. Blumberg performed Maurice Ravel's "Le Cygne" and brought out all the gentleness of the Jules Renard text, painting an evocative aural picture for us to visualize. His fine French added to the Gallic flavor and Mr. Wenau's rippling piano lent an aural assist.
The following song, Hugo Wolf's "Storchenbotschaft" showed off tenor Scott Murphree's artistry. Eduard Mörike's text tells a delightful story of a shepherd learning about the arrival of twins by virtue of a visit from a pair of storks. Mr. Murphree's German was impeccable and his storytelling captured all the humor. We loved Wolf's piano writing here; Mr. Wenau was brilliant.
Even better was Mr. Murphree's performance of Joseph Kosma's 20th c. comic masterpiece "Deux escargot s'en vont à l'enterrement" with text by Jacques Prévert. We don't usually think of tenors having a sense of humor but he sure does. What a charming performance of a charming story!
Ms. Slywotzky and Mr. Wenau almost outdid one another in a gorgeous performance of Debussy's "La flûte de Pan". When we speak of imagination, we must give ample credit to the poetry of Pierre Louÿs! And Ms. Slywotzky's French was perfect. What a versatile artist she is!
There were other delights on the program but let us skip to the 20th c. dragon-ish ending in which all the artists took part. Lee Hoiby's setting of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" might have been called "Jabberwacky"! All three singers joined to exhibit mock terror at this ferocious beast.
Wolseley Charles' "The Green-Eyed Dragon" never fails to delight and we enjoyed the singers' taking turns from one verse to the next. These artists are superb in solos but together they are formidable.
The Artistic Director for MVE is Tobé Malawista. The company has achieved great success in developing an audience for art song with their innovative programming.
(c) meche kroop